Artist Feature: Michael Slobodian

It is photo shoot week at Ballet BC! Photographer Michael Slobodian visits the company a few times a year to capture rehearsal and performance images, photos for marketing and social media, as well as update our headshots. It is always a special gift to have Michael in the studio working with us. He is a very welcome presence in the room. His incredible passion for his craft always inspires us. We were curious about how he found dance as a subject, so we stole a moment with Michael to ask him a few questions about himself and about shooting dancers. Very casual stuff, very interesting conversation.

How did you become interested in dance photography?

I’ve always been in interested in movement. When I started in fashion I was already infusing movement into my photography. I discovered dance through my girlfriend at the time. All of a sudden a whole new dimension opened up. I was fascinated with capturing human bodies in motion, the incredible beauty of the human body moving. That’s what drew me into that world. It was an artistic expression but it was physical in the way of sports – like an athlete doing what they do, but artistically. A beautiful mix of physicality and artistry.

How long have you been photographing dancers?

Since 1978.

Do you find that communicating with dancers in a photo shoot is different than communicating with models?

Communication has never been a problem. Socially it is never a problem. Dancers are a special breed, very open and very willing. The issue in the past was more my knowledge of the art form. But by being around, hanging around the studio, I have found a way to speak about it that makes sense to me and makes sense to the people I am working with. It has never been important for me to know the difference between “pas-de-six-chat” or a grande jete. I just found my own way to communicate. I always show dancers what I feel. For me, that communicates enough for the dancers to work with. They know about stretch and line, and I know about how to photograph it. Together we always find something that works.

You travel a lot for work. When did that start?

I started to travel more for work when Giocconda (my wife) was hired at Nederlands Dans Theatre. That was the first time we started to live separately and I started to travel a lot to see her and to photograph dancers. I would go to Spain and work with Nacho Duato’s company. But that was not really like splitting my time because it was a contract.

How do you split your time between Montreal and Vancouver?

Ballet BC and my friendship and professional relationship with Emily Molnar is what started bringing me here to Vancouver. Emily would say, “if you’re going to be here, let’s do a photo session”. I try to build my trips around the best way to service the company’s needs. Splitting my time, it’s a choice. It’s also because of my wife Giocconda and her relationship as a choreographer with Ballet BC and Arts Umbrella. I call it a “two-for”, she creates and I photograph. It has worked out in our favour.

I have always loved leaving wherever I am. I’m based in Montreal and I always get very excited when an opportunity comes for me to leave. I get tired of things a bit, I guess I’m a little impatient. After a couple of weeks I’m like “okay what is next?” I don’t know if that is good or bad but it keeps me going.

How do you keep developing as a photographer and as an artist?

I still continue to learn. If you stop learning you’re dead in the water. I think that’s important.

What makes the perfect photograph?

I guess it would be a mix of lighting, feeling and line. I look at a picture and I see emotion. I love motion, vibration, and interest in the body. Even just standing there, as long as there is a breath then I’m hooked. It’s not just a picture, it’s a feeling.

I had two very illuminating experiences, one with Jean Pierre Perreault, and one with Nacho Duato. Perreault taught me to wait for things, to move into the camera and to shoot completely unexpectedly. You had no clue with his work – it was more modern with improv. You would be watching and then “pchoo” all of a sudden out of nowhere something incredible. He taught me to wait and watch for those impossible moments. Shoot instinctively, that was a big deal for me. Big discovery.

The other was with Nacho Duato. We were looking at contact sheets and I saw a photo and said “meh, it’s not a great picture.” It was a group dance and the photo was a bit blurry and not perfectly in focus. He said “no no no it is a great shot, you have completely captured the spirit of my piece in this image”. I said “okay” but wasn’t convinced. Once I understood what he meant I said to myself “alright man, go with the emotion, go with my feeling of what the shot is trying to become.” Always being perfectly sharp, perfectly lit, perfectly in focus is not what it’s about. Take off your blinders and watch for things. Don’t worry so much about the technical aspect. It’s, “what is the feeling you get?” It was totally amazing.

Do you consider your mustache to be part of your identity?

I was born with it.

Check out Michael’s website and facebook to see more of his fabulous work!

-C+A Consulting Artists

Photo by Michael Slobodian
Photo by Michael Slobodian
Photo by Michael Slobodian
Photo by Michael Slobodian